Students vie for ‘District Future Chef’ title with savory fare


By Dana Delgado

Amidst shouts of “hot pans coming through” and mad scrambles to locate olive oil, seasonings, and various utensils along with meandering trips to the oven and stovetop, it was a battle royal among six elementary students competing for the title of “District Future Chef” for the Liberty Hill Independent School District.

The March 13th event, pitting elementary students from around the school district, is an annual cook-off sponsored by LHISD and Sodexo, the school district’s school cafeteria management partner. The event promotes proper nutrition and healthy recipes, which are critical to student health and well-being.  This year’s theme was Mexican fare. Nearly 50 different recipes were submitted for consideration to be named one of the five finalists. Recipes were narrowed down by how they tied in with the theme, their health value, originality, and their kid friendliness.

Within the hour provided after starting the competition, the six finalists sporting chef’s hats and aprons chopped, scooped, stirred, and warmed up ingredients with the aid of district food service managers. By time’s end, rich aromas filled the Intermediate School Cafeteria as the students put their finishing touches on their presentation plates, plates for the judges, and sample plates for the public in attendance.

Upon review of each entry, which included sampling, contestant interviews, and evaluation of the presentation plate by the judges including Mayor Rick Hall, AJ Collins and John Clark of SUNUP Insurance Services, LHISD General Manager for Nutrition Services Mary Sheffield announced the winners.

Named winner of the Most Kid Friendly Recipe was Lylah Elert with her Chicken Fajita Lettuce Wrap. Elert, in the competition for the first time, said her entry “tasted good” and found the experience to be “really fun.” “It was kind of hard,” she said, “but I was excited to make it. I like to help my mom and I want to be a chef when I grow up.”

Jackson Hendrix, a fourth grader from Bill Burden Elementary, was the Judges Choice winner with his savory Chicken Enchilada Soup.

Kallahan Erps with her Talking Taco Recipe won Best Plate Presentation.

“It came out better than I hoped,” said Erps. “I was nervous but the person (cafeteria manager) helped me a lot.”

Erps said the taco recipe is a family favorite and relished every Tuesday at home.

Addy Currington took honors for Most Healthy Attributes with her Turkey Stuffed Peppers Recipe.

“I’ve always loved stuffed bell peppers,” she said, “but I decided to create my own with avocado.”

Currington said she is an avid baker and competed last year as well when she won Best Flavor.

“This year, I wanted to step it up,” she said.

Winner for the Most Original Recipe was Kinsey Blair with her flavorful Spaghetti Squash Burrito Bowl Recipe.

“I love to cook and spaghetti squash is my favorite,” Blair said. “I usually help my mom a lot and used to help my nana cook, too.”

Named by the judges as the District Winner for her unique Taco Cupcakes Recipe was Peyton Ray.

“I was nervous but feel really happy to have won,” said Ray, a third grader from Liberty Hill Elementary who was competing for the first time. “This was so much fun. I like cooking at home with my mom who helps me a lot and we sometimes cook taco cups.”

As the District Winner, Peyton’s recipe will advance and vie to become one of the 40 regional finalists. If selected as a regional finalist, she could compete for one of five national finalist positions.
Winners were awarded prize baskets that included various cooking supplies like measuring cups, strainers, cutting boards and a copy of Kid Chef: The Foodie Kids Cookbook and Healthy Recipes and Culinary Skills for the New Cook in the Kitchen by Melina Hammer.

The District Winner was presented with a prize basket containing a 15 piece nonstick cookware set, measuring spoons and cups, flexible cutting mats, silicone pot holders, Echo Dot Kids Edition and a MasterChef Junior Cookbook. In addition, all of the participants received an apron, a chef jacket, and chef hat.

Sodexo’s Future Chef Competition, which prides itself in not only creating a meal, but an experience and a healthy lifestyle, is in its 9th year. 

“Students’ choices of recipes and healthy ingredients have grown significantly over the years,” said Sheffield.  “This year, several recipes included black beans, ground turkey and healthy vegetables like green and red bell peppers. It was exciting to have students submit healthy Mexican recipes this year. The students were excited to present their dishes and everything went very well.”

While an array of Mexican dishes were served up at this year’s competition, broad smiles and the joy of cooking healthy foods were the specials on this day’s menu.